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(3rd LD) S. Korea reports first coronavirus cases among service members

11:56 February 21, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more details in paras 9-14)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL/JEJU, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- A number of coronavirus cases were confirmed among military personnel for the first time Friday, including an Air Force officer at the Gyeryongdae military headquarters, sending officials scrambling to stop the virus from spreading further into the barracks.

Three cases were confirmed, one each in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. They are the first COVID-19 cases among service members since South Korea reported its first case last month.

The three were among a total of 52 cases newly confirmed Friday across the country.

All three service members had visited or contacted people from the southeastern city of Daegu, where the number of cases has surged sharply this week. More than half of the 156 cases confirmed so far happened in Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province.

The first service member case was a 22-year-old Navy sailor on the southern island of Jeju who visited his hometown, Daegu, from Feb. 13 to Tuesday, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Upon returning to the base, he showed symptoms like coughing, prompting the authorities to immediately quarantine him at the base. He is now at a Jeju hospital.

A Navy sailor arrives at a hospital on South Korea's southern island of Jeju to undergo a test for the new coronavirus on Feb. 20, 2020. (Yonhap)

An Army officer in the central county of Jeungpyeong, North Chungcheong Province, was also confirmed to have the virus and was transferred to a military hospital. It is the first new coronavirus case in the central province.

He met his girlfriend in Daegu during his vacation, according to local health officials. The girlfriend attends the same New World Church, or Shincheonji Church of Jesus, as the country's 31st patient, who is considered a "super spreader."

An Air Force soldier currently assigned to a unit at the military compound in Gyeryong, South Chungcheong Province, was also confirmed to have the virus and was transferred to a military hospital earlier in the day.

The officer, originally based in Daegu, was sent to Gyeryong on Monday to write exam questions to be used in the recruitment of people specializing in foreign language interpretation and translation, according to the officials.

"We've quarantined all those who had contact with the patients, and have sought various measures against the virus, such as checking the body temperature of all service personnel there," a defense ministry official said.

The military authorities have also carried out surveys of all personnel on whether they have recently visited Daegu or the surrounding regions.

More than 5,000 service personnel are estimated to have visited the region during their vacation, according to the military's preliminary investigation.

A cadet of the Air Force Academy and six colleagues have been placed under quarantine, after a parent of cadet who attended the entrance ceremony of the Air Force Academy on Monday was found to have the novel virus.

As part of efforts to mitigate risks to service personnel, the defense ministry decided late Thursday to restrict all enlistees from vacationing and staying outside their base to meet visitors starting Saturday.

Soldiers set up a roadblock in front of a Navy base to limit visitors on Feb. 21, 2020, in the wake of a confirmed case of the new coronavirus among its service personnel. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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